The number of Americans who died from overdoses of prescription painkillers more than tripled in the past decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More people now die from painkillers than from heroin and cocaine combined.
An estimated 14,800 people died in the United States from painkiller overdoses in 2008, a more than threefold jump from the 4,000 deaths recorded in 1999, the CDC said in a new report.
Prescription and illegal drugs caused 36,450 deaths in 2008, compared with 39,973 deaths from motor vehicle crashes, according to the Associated Press.
The CDC said painkiller abuse and deaths are rising because the drugs are easier than ever to obtain. They cited the growth of “pill mills,” clinics that prescribe opioids without first conducting medical exams, and “doctor shopping,” or receiving multiple prescriptions from different doctors.
According to the CDC, enough painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around the clock for a month. “Right now, the system is awash in opioids—dangerous drugs that got people hooked and keep them hooked,” said CDC Director Thomas Frieden.
“Prescription drug abuse is a silent epidemic that is stealing thousands of lives and tearing apart communities and families across America,” Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy, said in a CDC news release. He noted health care providers and patients should be educated on the risks of prescription painkillers. “Parents and grandparents should properly dispose of any unneeded or expired medications from the home and to talk to their kids about the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs,” he noted.